94 So you’d recommend retailers go ahead and enter this kind of competition? Definitely – you should jump into them and try your very best. The Wedding Industry Awards are great, as they also provide you with your customers’ and judges’ comments after the event, so you can focus on areas to improve. In our case it was happily shedding a few tears at the beautiful things our customers had written. What inspired you to set up a bridal boutique? I used to model bridalwear in Italy, and after a successful showbiz and modelling career decided to come back to my roots and open a bridal shop! I’ve always loved fashion, people and showing off, so the position of bridal shop owner was perfect for me! When did you open Bellissima Weddings? It was back in 2001, meaning I’m going to celebrate 19 years this June. As I said above, working as a model meant I’d seen how the fashion industry – and in particular the bridal industry – worked from the inside out. My grandmother was a milliner and my mum was a model, so it was always going to happen! How would you say your business has evolved from when you first opened? I started in a tiny shop all on my own. As the business started to grow, my husband came on board part-time to assist with the admin, then took a career break to help me grow the business. It expanded so quickly that he never went back! We quickly needed more staff, then started looking for a new premises after two years. Once that was acquired we expanded twice more on to neighbouring units! We now operate in 2,500 square feet of gorgeousness – and apart from myself and my husband, employ a team of nine girls and four seamstresses. Why do you think your boutique works? We are successful because we are consistent and customer centric. We aren’t about gimmicks or special offers, but we are about giving an unrivalled experience and a good choice of gowns. All our girls are key members, in that they manage their own customer list and are their unique contact point in the shop. Do you ever like to collaborate with any other local wedding suppliers? We promote hair stylists and make-up artists, as well as photographers and florists – in fact anyone who has given our brides a wonderful time. If our customers recommend them then we do, too! We don’t take any commission but sometimes pull in a few favours and use their services – take our afternoon before the awards as a prime example. Which bridal designers do you stock? I like to have a good solid commercial mix on our rails as the central backbone, as well as an ‘arty’ label and something that appeals to an older bride. This is because we have two different tribes that shop with us, and we find this mix works perfectly. At present we stock Mori Lee, Enzoani, Elysee, Maggie Sottero, Stella York, Kenneth Winston, Wendy Makin and Ellis Bridals.